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The first time it happens, Jesper doesn’t think anything about it, just throws himself forward into the scrum. He’s not the only one going in, spurred on by adrenaline and the sound of his heart pounding in his ears and the roar of the crowd as they react to the scrum.

Nobody’s gloves come off. He doesn’t even get a roughing penalty.

“Stay out of scrums, kid,” Greene tells him as they’re leaving the ice after the period. Jesper bites down on his mouthguard and grins, and Greene reaches out and ruffles his hair so hard it pushes Jesper’s head down. He walks past Nico, who had been at the center of the scrum, to get to his own stall.

Nico’s breathing hard, his head leaned back against the back of his stall, hair soaked with sweat and his eyes closed. There’s a water bottle clutched in his hand, and his cheekbones are bright with color.

Probably, Jesper thinks stupidly, he’d punch anyone in the entire league for Nico. Maybe even Zdeno Chara.

Probably not Zdeno Chara.

 

Someone slams him hard into the boards and it knocks the air out of him, but there’s no chance for his knees to buckle as the scrum coalesces around him. Jesper fights to draw breath back into his lungs more than he fights to get out of the scrum or to get hands off of him.

He makes it back to the bench, breathing heavy, and takes his helmet off, grabbing a towel to wipe at his visor. Then he realizes that Nico’s in the box. Two minutes, roughing.

Hallsy bumps against him on the bench as they slide down. “You all right?” he asks. Jesper nods, sweeps his hair back, then jams his helmet back on. “You guys don’t have to fight you know. Let someone else do it.”

“Like you?” Jesper asks, feeling cheeky, knowing Taylor had gone into the middle of that scrum just as fast as Nico had, he just hadn’t gone to the box for it. Taylor grins at him around his mouth guard.

“Fuckin’ right,” Taylor tells him.

 

It’s stupid, Jesper knows. Maybe it’s because they’re both rookies this season - or maybe not, because he doesn’t feel like he has to throw himself into a scrum to defend Butchy when he’s in the middle of one. Maybe it’s because he and Nico are both nineteen, or because both of them have less weight to throw around on the ice.

But the next time it happens, when Nico’s slammed into the boards and a fight starts up around him because someone’s taking exception to the hit - yeah, Jesper throws himself in there. Taylor hip checks him back out of the way, because - well, that’s not fair, Jesper thinks vaguely, because honestly, he should be allowed to fight for his liney too.

Just because Taylor wears an A and is older and heavier and probably the boss of Jesper since they’re on the ice doesn’t mean he can tell Jesper that he’s not allowed to defend Nico.

Jesper gets punched in the face and two minutes in the box and it’s worth it.

Except, on his way to the box, he makes eye contact with Nico, who has his lid off and is pushing one gloved hand through his sweaty hair. Nico flashes him the briefest of smiles, and Jesper feels his stomach drop.

Okay, so maybe he’s not defending Nico because they’re both younger or smaller or rookies or European or whatever.

Jesper may have a crush on Nico.

 

Sometimes, after practice or after games, Jesper follows Marcus home, just because having someone around who speaks Swedish keeps him from getting too homesick. He doesn’t have an ulterior motive, at all.

He doesn’t, in the slightest, stop in Jojo’s kitchen and let Jojo hand him a beer before saying, “have you ever had a crush on a teammate?”

This causes Jojo to choke on his own beer and double over at the kitchen counter, coughing, his head down and his forehead on the marble. When he finally straightens up, his face is as red as Jesper’s feels.

“Sorry?” Jojo finally says.

“Have you ever had a crush on a teammate,” Jesper repeats, and then slams half of his beer because he’s pissed that Jojo’s making him repeat it, even though Jojo knows exactly what he said.

“Like. Romantically?” Jojo asks. He wipes at his eyes, watery from coughing.

“You’re not being helpful,” Jesper says, suddenly feeling sulky. He wishes he’d tried talking about this with someone else. He’s not sure that he has the English to talk this through with anyone else.

“I guess your rookie year’s as good a time as any to have a gay crisis,” Jojo tells him.

“Oh my God,” Jesper says, and this time it’s his head down against the counter.

“I’m not gonna judge you or anything but uh,” Jojo says. He grimaces and then takes a sip of his beer. “That’s something you might wanna keep to yourself? I mean, you never know how he’s gonna take it, and then shit might get weird, and then. Well. Then everything’s fucked up.”

“Because you’re the voice of experience?” Jesper says, irritated.

“No,” Jojo says. “Not exactly. But I’m just saying. Unless you know he’s not gonna freak out, it’s not. Maybe not the best idea to say anything.”

Jesper sighs, because he knows Jojo is probably right. It’s a conservative approach, sure, but it’s a conservative sport, especially in the NHL.

 

Realizing that he has a crush on Nico changes nothing, while at the same time changing everything. They don’t share a room on the road - Nico rooms with Taylor, and Jesper used to room with Jojo, until Jojo got a concussion.

Nico still invites him over to play video games after practice half the time, or on off days when they don’t have better things to do. Sometimes Jesper even crashes on the couch when they fall asleep watching movies, his head pillowed on Nico’s shoulder, only to be woken up by Taylor fumbling in the door at two in the morning, half drunk, and tripping over the end of the couch.

“Don’t you people have beds to sleep in?” Taylor asks them, blinking owlishly. Nico mutters something in German that Jesper is pretty sure is telling Taylor exactly where to go. From the way his eyes narrow, Jesper thinks Taylor is pretty sure of that too.

Nico and Taylor go to their respective bedrooms and Jesper falls back asleep on the couch nearly immediately, in spite of himself.

None of them mention it in the morning, anyway, and Nico shrugs with his spoon in his mouth when Jesper asks why Taylor is apparently sneaking back into his own apartment in the middle of the night.

It happens twice before Nico says, once Taylor has disappeared down the darkened hallway with a bottle of water, “you could just come sleep in my bed, you know. The couch isn’t that comfortable.”

Jesper doesn’t even think about it until after he’s already followed Nico down the hallway and stripped down to his shorts and climbed into bed and Nico’s turned off the lights and is scrolling through his phone in the dark next to Jesper. Jesper turns off the light and rolls over onto his side, and then he realizes that he’s in bed with Nico. Nico, who he definitely has a crush on.

He is a huge idiot.

In spite of that, he falls asleep curled up on his side with his phone tucked under the pillow, alarm set for early enough that he still has time to get home and shower before heading to practice. What happens, is he wakes up on his stomach in Nico’s bed, with Nico’s arm flung across his back, and Nico pressed warm against his side.

Nico is a snuggler, apparently.

That’s how things escalate from totally normal to going off the rails, because it’s not like Jesper’s never shared a bed with a teammate and it’s not even like he’s never woken up with someone’s dick stabbing him in the hip, but this is Nico.

It’s Nico, who has thrown himself into scrums to fight for Jesper, who Jesper has fought for, who has been his best friend in this rookie season. Who Jesper definitely and deeply has feelings about that are far more than platonic.

Thinking about Nico’s dick pressed against his hip makes Jesper’s own dick twitch, and he knows that he’s got to get out of the bed. Except he wants to do it without waking Nico up and letting him know that - well.

He doesn’t fall out of the bed getting out from under Nico’s arm but it’s only just barely and it’s not graceful. He makes it into the bathroom without Nico waking up, or at least without knowing if he woke Nico up. It doesn’t matter.

And like - he’s not going to jerk off in the bathroom and he definitely needs to calm the fuck down, but his phone is still in the bedroom underneath the pillow, and he’s an idiot. He takes a deep breath and puts his head down on the bathroom counter, closing his eyes.

He’s still got his head down when there’s a hard thud against the door.

“You want breakfast?” Taylor’s voice yells from the other side, and Jesper takes another deep breath and straightens up. He still wants to flee and go home, but if Taylor is gonna take them for breakfast, then, well, obviously he’s not gonna turn it down.

He opens the door to find Taylor standing in the doorway of Nico’s bedroom, wearing basketball shorts. “Are you making breakfast?” Jesper asks.

“I’m ordering breakfast,” Taylor says, giving Jesper a look that clearly says he’s not sure who Jesper thinks Taylor is. Taylor presses his phone into Jesper’s hands, the app already open. Jesper still thinks American breakfast is weird, but he picks a couple of things and hands the phone back to Taylor.

“Usual place,” Taylor says into Nico’s bedroom. “Text me what you want.”

Nico says something back that Jesper can’t hear all of, or just can’t understand as Jesper steps around Taylor to go back into Nico’s bedroom. Nico is awake, propped up on his pillows, tapping at his phone.

“Sorry if I flopped all over you in the night,” Nico says. “Apparently I’m - what is it, Taylor?”

“A fucking cuddler,” Taylor’s voice echoes back from somewhere further down the hall.

“It’s fine,” Jesper says.

Breakfast isn’t even awkward, except that Nico spends half of it needling Taylor about coming in half drunk in the middle of the night, and how Taylor refuses to say where he’s been.

“That’s cute. You snuggle each other,” Taylor says around a mouth full of omelette.

“Not all of us want to die alone,” Nico says.

“Harsh,” Taylor says. “See if I ever order you breakfast again.”

“I’ll tell Greener and Palms if you’re mean to me and then they’ll lecture you,” Nico tells him.

“I’ll tell you know who about you know what,” Taylor says.

“I’ll smother you in your sleep,” Nico says. Jesper watches as Nico’s face goes bright red.

“What is going on?” Jesper asks, looking into his empty coffee cup.

“Nothing,” Nico says, his face still red. Taylor snickers into his own coffee cup then, before getting up from the table and tossing his takeout container in the garbage and rinsing his mug in the sink. Jesper can feel the table vibrating as Nico taps his foot against the leg.

“What was that all about?” Jesper asks, once Taylor’s out of the room. Nico shakes his head.

“It’s nothing. Really,” Nico says.

Jesper doesn’t ask, but he does sigh as they both get up to clear the table.

 

Jesper gets two minutes for roughing when Nico gets boarded late in a chippy game. Jesper’s pretty sure that he sees red going in, and he doesn’t think, just starts throwing gloved fists until a ref pulls him back and shoves him toward the box. He’s breathing hard and the crowd is screaming when his vision finally clears.

Coach reads him the riot act for taking a stupid penalty and putting the team on the PK later. Taylor tells him to stop being an idiot and figure out how to work out his feelings in a different way that doesn’t involve compromising a win.

It’s still weird to Jesper when Taylor says things like “compromising,” because Taylor’s not supposed to know four syllable words.

Nico texts him on the way to the hotel, and asks if he can stop by Jesper’s room for a few minutes once they’re back. Jesper doesn’t think anything of it before saying yes. He changes into pajama pants once he’s back in his hotel room, ready to climb into bed. The adrenaline’s worn off from the game, from the fight. He just wants to sleep.

Nico’s knock on the door is quiet, so quiet that Jesper’s not sure that he’s heard anything. He leaves his phone laying on the bed and leans against the door. He catches a glimpse of Nico before Nico’s thumb comes up to cover the peephole.

He tugs open the door, and Nico steps inside, wearing a hoodie over his track pants and slides. He’s got a split in his lip from where he went into the boards, and before he says anything, Jesper watches him press his tongue into the cut.

Jesper wants to kiss him. Jesper’s wanted to kiss him for months. He runs through everything he’s thought about, the ways this could go wrong - the ways he’s been told this could go wrong - in his head.

Nico closes the door behind himself, and while Jesper’s thinking about kissing Nico, Nico closes the distance between them and presses their mouths together.

Jesper freezes, not sure how to react. This is what he wanted, after all, and he’s getting it without having to worry about anything, about having to make the move himself. When Jesper doesn’t respond, Nico starts to pull away.

Instead of letting Nico pull away, Jesper finally moves, crowding into Nico’s space, pushing Nico back against the door, pressing their mouths together. Nico makes a tiny noise when Jesper is too rough against his split lip. Jesper pulls away his eyes flicking from Nico’s eyes to his split lip and back up.

“Taylor told me not to,” Nico says. “But I wanted.” He licks his lips again, and Jesper leans in, kisses him softly.

“Yeah, he’s not the only one who said not to, then,” Jesper says. He brushes his tongue across the split in Nico’s lip, listens to Nico’s sharp intake of breath.

“I’m sorry I invited you to sleep in my bed then didn’t say anything,” Nico whispers. His back is pressed against the door, Jesper’s hands pinned between the curve of Nico’s body, just above the swell of his ass, the door cold against the backs of his hands. “I wanted to.”

“I wanted to hit everyone who laid a finger on you out there,” Jesper says.

“You kind of did,” Nico whispers back. Jesper watches Nico close his eyes, the fringe of his lashes a soft curve against his cheeks.

“So did you,” Jesper says. He presses his lips to the arch of Nico’s cheek, to the edge of his jaw. Nico tips his head back, and Jesper pulls one hand free from behind Nico, pushing Nico’s hair back behind Nico’s ears.

“Kiss me again,” Nico says.

“I don’t want to hurt you,” Jesper says.

“You won’t,” Nico says.

Jesper nods his head, and brings their mouths back together. They walk each other across the hotel room, fumbling with the zippers of sweatshirts and the ties of sweatpants. They’re both laughing breathlessly as they tumble onto the bed.

“Ow,” Nico says, and fumbles underneath himself, pulling out Jesper’s phone. Jesper takes it and tosses it over to the other bed, snickering.

“That hurt? Not your mouth?” Jesper asks.

“Fuck off,” Nico says, lifting his head up until he can catch Jesper’s lower lip between his teeth.

If it’s a mistake, Jesper will worry about it later. If it fucks something up, Jesper will worry about it later. For now, there’s just Nico pressed up against him on the bed, his fingers tangled in Jesper’s hair, and Jesper’s knee pressed between Nico’s thighs.